By Curtis Skinner
NEW YORK (Reuters) - E-cigarette users breathed a sigh of relief on Thursday after U.S. health officials proposed new rules for the devices that would ban sales to minors, but allow manufacturers to keep offering flavored nicotine liquids beloved by so-called vapers.
Mcshalonic Martinez, 25, puffed on a caramel mochachino flavored e-cigarette at the Henley Vaporium in lower Manhattan, saying the device helped him kick his three-pack-a-day smoking habit. He can't imagine going back to traditional cigarettes.
"When I smell a cigarette now, I get disgusted," Martinez said. "These are all natural flavors, not the carcinogens that are in cigarettes."
The proposal, representing the first U.S. effort to regulate a burgeoning $2 billion e-cigarette industry, would ban device and nicotine liquid sales to minors. It does not recommend restricting flavored products or online sales and advertising, which public health advocates say make the products more attractive for children and teens.
The announcement comes on the heels of a New York City law passed last year that banned e-cigarette usage anywhere that traditional cigarettes are prohibited. It also bars businesses from selling products to anyone younger than 21.
Peter Denholtz, co-founder of the Henley Vaporium in lower Manhattan, said he too supported the minor ban, and applauded the agency for leaving flavors off the chopping block.
"It would have killed one of the most important aspects of getting people to quit smoking," Denholtz said. "It probably would have put us out of business."
E-cigarette advocates say they are a safer alternative to conventional cigarettes, as they do not produce lung-destroying tar. But there is so far little data about their long-term safety.
Nicholas Goldman, 40, inquired about a cinnamon variety of the more than 100 liquids sold at the shop, and said all the different types of flavors are what keep him vaping.
When asked if he would continue using e-cigarettes if flavors were banned, he said: "Probably not. But I wouldn't be back on regular cigarettes. I've got my taste buds back, I've got my health back, and my clothes don't smell."
(Reporting by Curtis Skinner; Editing by Michele Gershberg)